Earthly delights: the best vegetarian and vegan restaurants
Meat-free menu choices have moved on – a lot. Sophie Haydock selects the 30 places serving the best vegetarian and vegan fare in the UK
Pleasure is at the heart of eating, a principle that’s no less true for vegetarians. Being presented with a menu featuring only a couple of bland, palette-numbing options used to be the norm for those who dared to refuse meat: a goat’s cheese tart or plate of sloppy gnocchi would do. It was hard to find good, inventive food in a world obsessed with animal meatiness, and vegetarians searched in vain for dishes that were more than just footnotes to otherwise carefully constructed menus (stuffed peppers, again).
Happily, this has all changed, and chefs such as Anthony Bourdain will have to revise the opinion that vegetarians and vegans are the “enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit”.
These days, Britain has some of the most impressive vegetarian food in the world, thanks in part to some of the groundbreaking restaurants on this list. Places such as Vanilla Black and Mildreds in London, and Riverside Vegetaria, in Kingston upon Thames, have helped vegetables, pulses, fruit and grains reach their potential.
These, and others, have paved the way for a new generation of good vegetarian restaurants, cafes, street-food stalls and pop-ups to get creative with fine produce, often with an ethos of seasonality and sustainability. You might even be thinking of setting up your own vegetarian or vegan restaurant or cafe. Well, with the help of some Bulk Frozen Vegetables, you’re good to go! Get out there and give the people what they want: fabulous veggie food. We’re lucky we now live in a time that it’s easy to find mouthwatering veggie dishes around every streetcorner, and we now have the choice to avoid meat for just a day or for an entire lifetime.
LONDON AND THE SOUTHEAST
Various locations, London
A mecca for many of the capital’s vegetarians, Mildreds has also seduced a lot of its meat-eaters. It has been serving up cheap and hearty vegetarian food since 1988, long before #MeatFreeMonday began to trend on Twitter, and at a time when vegetarian food had an image problem. Owners Jane Muir and Diane Thomas helped to change that. Go there for one of their burgers – the classic smoked tofu ( 8), Polish beetroot ( 8), or the halloumi, harissa and chargrilled aubergine flatbread ( 7).
The City, London EC4
Vegetarian food has long moved on from the stereotype of overcooked root vegetables and mushy chickpeas, and Vanilla Black has been instrumental in making this happen. It’s been serving sophisticated, modern, Michelin-recommended food since 2004 , and keeps pushing the envelope. Creations include fried porridge and broad beans, and pineapple and Tabasco biscuit dessert ( 31 for a two-course set menu).
King’s Cross, London WC1
Europe’s first organic, vegan Japanese restaurant has been offering fresh fish-free sushi and homemade noodles – including chapche, made from sweet potato starch – since 2009. Fill up on freshly rolled maki stuffed with okra and vegetables (four pieces, 6), or a seaweed sushi set with tofu or harumaki spring rolls (from 14).
Raw at La Suite West
Bayswater, London W2
Raw vegan – defined as ingredients not heated above 48C – is the latest trend in meat-free eating, and at this boutique hotel restaurant, it gets the high-end treatment. Opt for a full vegan breakfast with scrambled tofu ( 13), the five-course tasting menu ( 30), or the afternoon tea, including homemade scones, coconut cream and alcohol-free fizz ( 27). Refreshingly, the menu doesn’t make any health claims and simply lets the food speak for itself.
Notting Hill, London W2
One of London’s newest vegetarian/vegan openings. The menu offers a healthy prescription of free-from food, including dairy, refined sugars, additives and chemicals. Don’t let that spoil your enjoyment, though: try the millet, black bean and mushroom burger with goji ketchup ( 14) and the lemon cheesecake with vegan sorbet and maple meringue ( 11).
Dalston, London N16
This small but stylish restaurant serves perfectly spiced, traditional Gujarati food. Mother and son Lalita Patel and Urvesh Parvais own the venue, which also has stalls at Borough and Broadway Markets. They prepare freshly cooked dishes for a short, regularly changing menu. Don’t miss the paneer tikka ( 12.50) and definitely finish off with the creamy Indian ice cream pista kulfi ( 5.50).
Bühler + Co
Walthamstow, London E17
This cafe serves until 5pm (closed Mondays), making it a good place to brunch, as well as drink coffee and eat homemade Portuguese pastel de nata and other cakes. Unusual dishes celebrate the sibling owners’ New Zealand heritage and their enjoyment of world cuisine. Try spätzle soft noodles with girolles and hazelnuts ( 8.50), or the quinoa cakes with poached egg and a pickled radish salad ( 8).
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
Set right by the river, this restaurant serves award-winning food that refuses to bow to the fads or fashions of the food world. Instead, there are homely, hearty vegetarian and vegan dishes from around the world, including organic tofu teriyaki, Caribbean casserole, red lentil and avocado kedgeree and even a hearty veggie lasagne (main courses, 10 each).
Various locations, London
One of London’s original veggie restaurants, the Gate in Hammersmith, west London, was launched by brothers Adrian and Michael Daniel in 1989. They drew on their Indo-Iraqi Jewish heritage to serve hearty and humble meat-free dishes. They opened a second, stylish restaurant in Islington, north London, in 2011. Both serve perfectly polished vegetarian dishes, including three-lentil pâté terrine ( 7), wild mushroom chipotle ( 16) and chocolate marquise with griottines cherries ( 7).
Soho, London W1
Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israeli chef, is a name that has become synonymous with great meat-free cooking – that’s brassy flavours, bold colours and a strong range of textures and ingredients (plus a liberal use of pomegranate seeds). His dishes are drawn from the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia, and while his London restaurants, including Nopi, do serve fish and meat, the vegetable is always the crowning glory.
Food for Friends
Brighton, East Sussex
The vegetarian scene in Brighton is thriving, and Food for Friends, which opened in 1981, was one of the pioneers. This award-winning restaurant aims to produce “tasty, affordable and honest cooking”. Fresh ingredients such as beetroot, aubergine and asparagus are put through their paces to make the most of the flavours. The chefs even use a sous-vide in their quest for perfection ( 24 for a three-course set menu).
This iconic restaurant is one of the best places for vegetarians to eat in the UK. There’s no sense of abstinence when it comes to the food – the ethos is all about playful indulgence and sensory delights that centre on umami flavours. Try the KFC – Korean fried cauliflower with sweet and sour sesame ( 9.50); Cinders shall go to the ball – goat’s cheese soufflé with pine cinders ( 16); or churrosimo ( 9) – cinnamon-dusted doughnut straws with vodka cherries.
WEST AND SOUTHWEST
Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen
For 26 years, Demuths was a top vegetarian restaurant in Bath, run by the food writer, cookery teacher and veggie pioneer Rachel Demuth. It closed in 2013, and in its place emerged the elegant Acorn, set up by Demuths’s former chef and manager. It’s been renamed and given a subtle facelift, but retains its soul, serving inventive meat-free and vegan food. The three-course dinner menu costs 33.
The dishes here are creative and full of flavour – jerk halloumi with griddled pineapple; spicy jackfruit tacos with almond cream ( 11 each) – all beautifully cooked and presented, making this cosy restaurant and arts space a favourite destination for Bristol’s non-meat-eaters. Desserts are equally well crafted: try the cherry and almond samosas with dark chocolate sorbet, or a gluten-free Easton mess ( 6 each).
Lyme Regis, Dorset
A stone’s throw from stunning coastline, Tierra Kitchen is a small and chic space, with a short menu that’s heavy on well-presented, seasonal ingredients from the chef Mark Evans, who used to run Bristol’s Café Maitreya. Notable dishes have included borlotti bean and quinoa schnitzel served with pickled blackcurrants, a salad of sautéed samphire with saffron parmentier potatoes and nectarines, and a strawberry and almond trifle with elderflower sorbet (three courses, 25).
The food at this bijou restaurant is locally sourced – the vegetables, fruit and herbs come from the owners’ garden. The space is small, so book in advance for evening reservations. You’ll be rewarded with an extensive burger menu, including the gertie – Cornish yarg, carrot, orange and chilli chutney ( 7.25) – and the queenie: veggie bacon, pigless ham and onion marmalade ( 7.25). You’ll also find Pea Souk’s own happy pig porkless pies (from 4) and homemade cakes and desserts (from 1.75).
EAST AND MIDLANDS
The Veggie Red Lion
Great Bricett, Suffolk
Just a 20-minute drive from Ipswich, the Veggie Red Lion is one of the few exclusively vegetarian pubs in the UK. It has made a name for itself by serving decidedly un-pubby grub in a traditional old English country-pub setting. The menu offers Shropshire blue and spring onion risotto cakes ( 6), butterbean, okra and apricot tagine ( 11) and moreish desserts such as lemon posset ( 5). It also sells its enduringly popular three-for- 10 homemade “redi-meals”.
This city-centre venue has been serving vegetarian food to residents and visitors for almost three decades now. The vibe may be laid-back, low-key and unassuming, but the food is award-winning. Customer favourites include Latvian potato bake ( 10), tagine L’Algerienne ( 10) or the homemade carrot cake, which Nigel Slater says is the best he has ever tasted ( 5).
The modern, simple interiors belie the panache of the food – the griddled steaks are made with aubergine ( 9.25), while the avocado comes baked, with rose harissa and baba ghanoush ( 9.25). For something a little more decadent, try the raw vegan chocolate orange and coconut cheesecake ( 5.25).
The Warehouse Cafe
Deep-fried halloumi “fish” and chips ( 9) and Thai-style beetroot curry ( 8.50) instantly mark out the menu here as quirky and creative. There has been a vegetarian restaurant on the site for more than 30 years and its current incarnation shares the converted warehouse with the city’s branch of Friends of the Earth. The majority of the food is organic, and thanks to a gifting scheme that involves friends’ and supporters’ allotments, dishes regularly include produce that has only been out of the ground for an hour or so.
NORTH AND SCOTLAND
Liverpool and Manchester
Tradition is at the heart of this Indian venue, which has two locations. There’s a good range of street-food options, as well as mains from the Punjab and
Gujarat. Paneer is the hero of the menu, but there’s room for other interesting ingredients such as fried bitter gourds ( 7.25), jackfruit in a north Indian-style curry ( 8), and a dessert of grated carrots cooked with milk, sugar and cardamom ( 4).
West Didsbury, near Manchester
It’s not often you find black pudding at a veggie restaurant, but the owner and head chef, Simon Rimmer, who is also the presenter of Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch, has perfected a method of making it out of vegetables, with a mustard mayo ( 4.50). Other innovative options include courgette carpaccio with whipped ricotta ( 6), deep-fried oyster mushrooms with pancakes ( 12) and soft-shell halloumi tacos ( 13).
This Indian street food-style restaurant has built on the city’s already excellent vegetarian options and will open a site in Manchester later this year. Choose from dishes such as the Mumbai-style vada pav burger of spicy mashed potato in a brioche bun with chutney and green chillies ( 5), okra fries ( 3.50), or one of the regularly changing specials.
Wetherby, West Yorkshire
This family-run Indian restaurant on a pretty cobbled street looks unassuming and low-key, but the food is anything but. Established in 2008, Mango serves traditional Gujarati food. Start with a spicy Indian lemonade with hints of cardamom, before moving on to kachori (flour-based pastry balls; 4), paneer rolls with garden peas ( 4.50) and mumbai chaat – spiced potatoes with brown chickpeas, puffed rice and sweet and sour chutney ( 6.50).
The usual ingredients are on the menu at Fellini’s, a modern restaurant that brings tastes of the Mediterranean to this town in the Lake District, but they’re done with a twist. The grilled halloumi is served with watermelon ( 6.45) and the spinach comes in a crepe with a turmeric, mushroom and cream sauce ( 13). What’s more, the dining room is next door to an arthouse cinema and there are special film-and-food deals to enjoy.
The city’s first vegan restaurant opened in 2014 and continues to serve indulgent dishes made with local, seasonal produce in bold combinations – miso-carrot burger with coriander-citrus mayo ( 9), a spiced-bean burrito with tahini ( 9) and grapefruit raw-food cheesecake ( 4.50). Wash it down with turmeric and maple shake. Twice a month, they hold ticketed, themed tasting events such as Alice in Wonderland or Americana.
Fun is on the menu at this weird and wonderful all-you-can-eat vegetarian place in the city’s old town. Get lost in the maze-like warren of small rooms while refilling your plate with that evening’s eclectic cuisine as many times as you can manage. Menus include authentic and varied food, take your pick from Thai, Indian, Spanish and Tibetan – the first person to book gets to choose the theme for the night (Azerbaijani cuisine, anyone?). At 19 for three courses, it’s great value for money, too.
This bright and bijou cafe, close to York Minster, serves a range of vegan cakes, including gluten-free and raw options – one of the most popular is pistachio, rose and cardamom ( 3.95). The daytime menu is extensive, with rustic burgers (from 8.35) on multigrain buns, tofu hotdogs ( 6.95), soups and a nourish noodle bowl ( 8.75), as well as daily specials. They also serve hearty breakfasts – choose from fresh fruit chia pudding ( 4.95), banana, blueberry and almond loaf ( 3.50) or chestnut and tofu rissole topped with tomato and mushrooms ( 6.25).
Eclectic influences arrive on the plate at this restaurant, headed up by David Bann, an award-winning chef who has been serving high-concept dishes in Edinburgh since 2002. The modern European food is prepared with flair. Check out the homemade ravioli with walnut filling ( 6.25) and the beetroot, bramley apple and strathdon blue bake ( 13.50).
This retro dining room is cosy and welcoming, with an open fire, comfy armchairs and lazy-Sunday vibes every day of the week. The portions are generous and good value – don’t miss the classic 78 burger ( 5.35); extra toppings include hummus, chilli, tempeh rasher, mushrooms and jalapenos. Finish off with vegan ice cream with toasted walnuts ( 4.15).